Wednesday, February 11, 2009

21st century Christ charges a €20 fee

So then, where were we? Ah yes, tales of teenage douchebaggery debauchery!

Well, now that I’ve baited you with the embarrassing stuff from a decade ago, I’m going to shift gears to my more recent past.

I’ve blogged before about the few months I spent doing slave-labour in Belgium as part of my academic obligations, but didn’t address a remarkable encounter I had shortly after coming home.

In March 2006, during a weekend-trip home, I visited my 88-year-old grandfather in the hospital. He had been having problems with his back and was spending most of his days in a wheelchair – at the time I was struck by how suddenly he had crossed the line and become frail and old, disproving the notion I held of him as a man of infinite vitality.

By the time I left Belgium for good some three months later, my grandfather was back on his feet and sprightly as ever – I was delighted to see this transformation, and enquired about what I had missed whilst I was away.

My uncle told me that my grandfather had gone to a healer – a man who lives on a farm some twenty miles away who takes a coat hanger, waves it over the afflicted body part, then manipulates it back into health. I scoffed at the story, but my uncle told me about how my grandfather sat morosely at home for months before agreeing to see this quack. On the morning he left to see this chap, my grandfather was barely able to walk from his bedroom to the sitting room, and had to be helped into the car. An hour after the encounter, he was able to get out of the car unaided. The following day, he was able to walk the 100 feet to his front gate and back. The day after that, he went outside kicking a football around with his little grandchildren.

It was a miracle!

But of course, I don’t believe in miracles.

I listened to this tale quite incredulously, but it was some rather compelling anecdotal evidence, and my grandfather confirmed that the tale was exactly how I had heard it. Both he and my uncle pushed me to go see if this mysterious chap could do anything for the recently diagnosed spinal disc herniation that had brought a great deal of misery into my life. My uncle even agreed to pay the €20 ‘miracle fee’, so I had nothing to lose!

What follows is the e-mail I sent to my then-girlfriend the following morning - and I assure you that the prescience I exhibit towards the end is word-for-word how the message was sent:

From: Seán O'Sullivan <[deleted]>
To: [deleted]
Subject: My audience with the modern Jesus
Thu, 22 Jun 2006 19:38:09 GMT

Evenin’ miss!

I was going to put off writing this e-mail until my main 'news' thread was complete, but I feel as though I should send you something to show I care in the meantime!

So here is my epic tale of visiting the healer guy! My uncle made the ‘appointment’ for me, and we drove in convoy up to the hilly forested area, and navigated a narrow dirt track to a barn – a big red one, in fact – at which point he left me to fend for myself.

I entered the small barn door and found myself in the 'waiting area', which was a partitioned off from the 'examining area' by a line of flimsy, whitewashed timber boards. In this waiting area were two chairs, a radio (with fuzzy reception) and a diesel tank! As more and more people crammed into this waiting area, I heard some truly astonishing tales about their experiences with this healer chap. These were people who had invested huge amounts of time and money in conventional medical care, but one trip to Mr. Red Barn sorted their woes almost like magic. I have to admit, I was excited by these testimonies, but I tried not to get my hopes up. The two people in the queue before me took easily 10 minutes each with the healer chap, and then it was finally my turn.

He was silver haired, had scraggy tufts of facial hair, and looked around 60 or so. He wore a suit that looked about two hundred years old. After looking blankly at him for a second he asked "are you stiff in your back"? Wondering if I should have brought along the x-rays, I told him that the discs of my lower spine were pinched together. He nodded at the stool – the only item of furniture in his open-plan surgery – and I parked myself on it.

He stepped behind me, and I stared blankly into the barren concrete floor as I tried to determine if the magic coat-hanger I had heard so much about was coming into play. No sooner had the thought occurred to me, I was being poked.

He prodded my lower left spine, then lower right spine, then tweaked my arm and twisted my leg over to one side, and told me to sit for a second. After a few seconds he told me to get up and walk around for a moment. He stood still and peered at me as I self-consciously paced in front of him.

Upon returning to my stool, he took another poke at my back, and proclaimed "You're fine”.

I got up, astonished by this bold claim. I asked him what he meant.

"You're fixed".

I stretched my back to validate this claim and didn't feel the stab of pain at my usual point of extension.

I gave him a confused "Huh" and watched him smirk at my reaction...

The whole thing took about two minutes! I was thoroughly bewildered. I wanted to make sure I was getting Uncle Phil's money's worth:

"Are we done?"

He nodded solemnly, then thoughtfully added "Don't sit on any couches for a month. No soft things."

So I left. Confused. Wondering for how long this restriction applied, and whether getting back into my car would break this covenant.

So I definitely felt better, but I'm not quite perfect yet – still feeling the familiar pains when I reach that little further, blahdeblahdeblah, but there's a marked improvement.

When I informed my uncle of this - he told me that if I give it 3 days, I'll be fine... So I woke up this morning, and – sure enough – felt a little better!

For now, I remain cautiously optimistic that whatever weird voodoo this guy is after using on me will keep working! The last glance that guy shot me was one of knowing something I didn't!

Sorry that this e-mail has rambled on so long about essentially nothing of interest for you, but at least I'll have a typed record of what happened that day after my shitty-memory kicks in and I forget about the entire thing!

I'm going to wrap it up here, but first I'll let you know that I'm being interviewed by the American Embassy on 17th July to determine whether they want to let me into the country or not. Oh and I've been accepted into RMU, so I'm happy!

I'll give you a call either tonight or tomorrow (if I ring now I'll just end up telling you what I just wrote, since I've been sitting around at home since yesterday)!

Okay – that’s all for today, kiddies. Come back in a day or two for the present-day, sceptical reflection!

Of course, feel free to steal my thunder in the comments - what do you think of all this business?


Jason said...

That's an interesting one. Do you still feel a noticeable improvement?

From what I gleamed from the email, the guy didn't posture as a shamanic, magical healer, so his credibility goes up. I wonder who he is and what his background is.

I have to mention the obvious word "placebo". Even when you go with a logical, skeptical mind, the bold conviction of his assertion, "you're fixed", combined with some beneficial physiological manipulation (whatever he did), the strong desire for it to be true, the general aura of wonderment spread by the other patients, and a wise, knowing look from a wispy, mysterious, suit-clad old man, possibly sets off some powerful cascade of neural events, such as a flood of endorphins or some mildly hypnotic analgesic. Sounds like I'm talking cock? Possibly. I'm not sure though...the power of suggestion can be incredible.
The connection between psychological states in the brain and physiological states in the body are only beginning to be understood. Gotta look into this shit some more.

Scenery said...

Good post. I wonder if he still works if you're thinking "PLACEBOPLACEBOPLACEBOPLACEBO" the whole time you're there. I suppose distracting those thoughts from your mind is what being a good quack is all about.

Anyways, kindly check out It's an amazing place.

Sully said...

@Jason - I put up the 'conclusion' just now, but yeah, the improvement has lasted.

I didn't mention in the pasted e-mail/preamble that the guy actually had the wire coat-hanger on a coat rack behind him, so I think the 'credibility' he's earned stems from the poor clarity of the information you were working off!


I think I'd still have noticed an improvement, even if I was expecting a simple placebo effect, because the whole process seemed like chiropractic, but with some magical window-dressing.

I probably come across as more naive than I was - I've always been quite sceptical of outlandish claims, but it's only in the past year and a half that I've acquired a solid sceptical toolkit for dealing with pseudoscience.

I'm still inclined to say it's the best €20 I've ever spent (of someone else's money, admittedly).

Thanks for the comments, and I agree that is indeed an amazing place!